|B. F. Tisdale and Eliza Pratt Tisdale|
with son William Pratt Tisdale, 1862
This photo of B. F. Tisdale is a Crayon Portrait, an enlargement which was enhanced by the photographer with conte crayon, chalk, charcoal, or watercolor. This type of portrait was made from the 1860s into the early 1900s. Crayon Portraits were often made from one-of-a-kind photos, such as Daguerreotypes, Ambrotypes, or Tintypes, so that several family members could have a copy. The photo of Eliza and baby Willie Tisdale in early 1862 may have been a Tintype. (Originals, Helen Tisdale Davis family)
Belle's mother gave birth to William Pratt Tisdale at 6 o'clock A. M. on November 1, 1861. He was named after his Grandfather Pratt. His birth was registered on January 20, 1862 by his father B. F. Tisdale and the printed form filled in: “the Twentieth of January in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty two and the first of the Independence of the Confederate States of America...” The family was living at 234 Calliope Street in New Orleans. (Orleans Parish Birth Records, Volume 29, page 692)
We do not find the Tisdale family in the 1860 census. We do not know if Eliza and the children stayed in New Orleans during the occupation or fled to the Pratt's Oakland Plantation east of Baton Rouge. No stories of the war came down in our branch of the family. There was only a photo of a young man in uniform and an obituary of a cousin to hint at what was to come.
When Major Mansfield Lovell took charge of Louisiana and Mississippi in October 1861, he found “not a gun to spare.” He started on improving defenses at Fort Jackson and St. Philip. Work on construction of a raft and chain barricade across the river between the forts was pushed forward and completed in December 1861. Two new ironclad ships, the Louisiana and the Mississippi, were under construction. There was a shortage of metal at the foundries trying to manufacture cannons. Worst of all were shortages of guns and powder. Lovell complained, “New Orleans is about defenseless.” (Winters, p. 79)
Before secession New Orleans was one of the world's busiest ports, second only to New York City. When Lincoln ordered the blockade of all Southern ports after the surrender of Fort Sumter in April, shipment of cotton ceased. (Winters, p. 44) Even though some vessels succeeded in running the blockade, the drop in trade severely affected the city. Gold and silver disappeared and Confederate Treasury notes became currency. (Winters, p. 53-54) Charles Dufour writes in his book The Night the War was Lost that small coins were so scarce coffeehouses and merchants issued change in the form of tickets good in trade. George Washington Cable, who was working as a cashier, wrote, “The current joke was that you could pass the label of an olive oil bottle, because it was greasy, smelt bad, and bore an autograph- Plagniol Freres, if I remember rightly.” (Dufour, p. 113)
The Union blockade of the Mississippi River tightened and there were massive shortages. Prices rose higher and higher. Miss Clara Solomon wrote in her diary that by September she had only bread and molasses for supper. (Winters, p. 54) There were shortages of needles, thread, and cloth. The Ladies' Sewing Circles that had been making clothes for the Confederate soldiers were now cutting up tablecloths and petticoats to make bandages. “Even little girls were kept busy trotting around their neighborhoods with subscription lists for various companies, some seeking a flag, ,others equipment, and still others uniforms. (Dufour, p. 36) Several newspapers ceased publication and those that remained cut back to one issue a week because of paper shortages. (Dufour, p. 112) The Tisdale family would have a very simple Christmas that year.
At midnight on December 28 Belle's family was awakened by a huge explosion “which shook buildings all over the city, upsetting furniture and shattering windowpanes.” The powder mill in the old Marine Hospital across the river had blown up. The True Delta reported that “A pillar of flame shot up to the sky for an instant illuminating the whole heavens, and then came the noise and the shock. The Crescent said: “The explosion was tremendous, destroying the building and shaking the earth for miles around...” (Dufour, p. 121) The shortage of gun powder was now critical.
Gov. Moore regretted that he had sent off so many of his Louisiana volunteers. A new militia act was passed on January 23, 1862 ordering all free white males between 18 and 45 years of age capable of bearing arms to enroll in the State Militia. (Winters, p. 72) B. F. Tisdale was 38 years old. His service record says he enlisted as a Private in Company B of the Confederate Guards Regiment, Louisiana Militia, on March 8, 1862. His brother in law, Marion Pratt, joined the same regiment and they were among those “transferred by Gov. Thomas O. Moore to Major General Mansfield Lovell, C. S. A., for local defense of the City of New Orleans.” (Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Louisiana, NARA M320, 586957, Record Group 109, Roll 0376, familysearch.org, accessed 9/13/2014)
On the same day that Belle's father enlisted Union troopships arrived at Ship Island off Biloxi. Rumors of invasion spread through the city. The river was at flood stage and a windstorm damaged the raft barricade at the forts below New Orleans. The biggest fear was that the gunboats would succeed in passing the forts and attack the city. The barricade was soon repaired. Martial Law was declared in Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard, and Plaquemine Parishes. (Winters, p. 80)
Many soldiers from Louisiana took part in the early battles of the war and spirits were running high with reports of victories, but in April 1862 after the battle at Shiloh, “the reality of war was brought home to the state. For two weeks after the battle, trains arrived in New Orleans carrying dead and wounded from that battlefield....”(Taylor, p. 90)
Lovell's appeal to Gov. Moore for 10,000 militia for defense of New Orleans was answered by only 3,000 men, the rest having been sent to P. G. T. Beauregard. Less than 1,200 were armed with muskets. The rest had shotguns or were unarmed. Some were ordered to Fort Jackson. Most were stationed at Chalmette. There they had a battery of ten 32 pound 28” cannon, half on each side of the river, but only enough ammunition for 20 rounds per gun. (Winters, p. 84) That may be where B. F. Tisdale and Marion Pratt were sent.
On April 18 Flag Officer David Farragut with 17 warships, the largest fleet the U. S. had ever assembled, began bombardment of Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip. Confederate Secretary of the Navy Mallory, ordered most of the ships at New Orleans up river, convinced that the forts were strong enough and that New Orleans would not fall. (Winters, p. 82) (Dufour, p. 216)
“After three days of intense anxiety, New Orleans on Easter Sunday was full of agitated, nervous people ready to believe almost any rumor...” (Dufour p. 241) “When the air was clear and the wind was right,” the rumbling of the mortars bombarding the forts could be heard like distant thunder in New Orleans. After four days and nights of mortar bombardment, the Union ships, under cover of darkness, cut the chains and began passing through the barricade and headed up river for New Orleans.
Early on April 24, word reached the city. The bells of all the churches began ringing. “Fearfully the people counted the methodical strokes of the clappers – one, two, three . . . ten, eleven, twelve. It was the signal of alarm, the signal for all military organizations to hasten to their armories.” (Dufour, p. 289)
Young Zoe Campbell heard the news from her friend Cecile Moise, daughter of the attorney general, that “the Yankees had passed the forts … the Federals were in the river.” Zoe wrote in her diary: “Our hearts stood still, fright overpowering us.” Teacher Mary Newman heard the tolling of the bells in her schoolroom: “I...dropped my books, snatched my bonnet & fairly flew home,” she wrote her sister. “I found everything and everybody in commotion.” Annunciation Square, where the Confederate Guards were encamped, was a scene of confusion... “some were packing up clothes, others tearing down tents, and still others hurrying to and fro, all eager for orders to start for the Jackson Rail Road.” (Dufour, p. 289) Was B. F. Franklin one of those men?
On the levee cotton bales were set on fire. Huge supplies of sugar, molasses, corn, and rice were also thrown on the fires. The True Delta reported: “Someone invited the women and children who thronged the levee to help themselves, which they did with a will. Men joined in the scramble, but they soon became disgusted with a retail operation and began to roll off sugar and molasses by the hogshead and barrel...”
Carts and wagons of military stores crowded the street to the Jackson Railroad station, where “every available car, freight and passenger, was on the tracks. Soldiers swarmed all over the cars - inside, on the vestibules, on top of them...Every moment the milling crowd grew as hacks dashed up and deposited terror-stricken women, children, and servants eager to flee the city.” (Dufour, p. 290-291)
George Washington Cable, clerk in a store whose owners had fled the city, closed up shop and joined the crowd on the Levee. He later wrote that he asked a man “Are the Yankee ships in sight?” The man pointed across the crescent bend of the Mississippi and Cable could see the masts of Farragut's vessels, engaged in silencing the Confederate batteries at Chalmette.
If B. F. Tisdale was one of the men at the Chalmette battery he would have been helping to fire one of the five big cannons. They fired until the ammunition ran out and then made their way through the surrounding swamps back to New Orleans to board the trains to Camp Moore. Cable watched the Federal ships approach. “Ah me! I see them now as they come slowly round Slaughterhouse Point into full view, silent, grim, and terrible; black with men, heavy with deadly portent; the long-banished Stars and Stripes flying against the frowning sky...” The occupation of New Orleans had begun.
Most histories of the Civil War spend few sentences on the bombardment of the forts and the breaking of the barricade. Joe Gray Taylor in Louisiana: A History writes one paragraph. John Winter in The Civil War in Louisiana writes twelve pages. Twelve of the sixteen chapters of Chester G. Heart's The Capture of New Orleans describe the events in meticulous detail. The bombardment and passing of the forts take up more than half of Charles L. Dufour 's 354 page The Night the War was Lost. His book was invaluable in getting an idea of what life must have been like for the Tisdale family in New Orleans.